Pope Benedict XVI began the final day of his American visit today with a blessing of Ground Zero, the site of the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in which 2, 700 people lost their lives.
After the Pope offered prayers and blessed Ground Zero, twenty four victims of the September 11 attacks, including first responders, emergency personnel and family members of those who died, met the Pope individually.
The private encounters, marked by the visible empathy the Holy Father has manifested to so many in his brief tour of the United States, began the process of healing for many.
Lieutenant Eddie Mullen of Ladder 142 in Queens, New York, said that September 11 stands as a "horrible day."
A New York native, Mullen said the Pope's visit to New York, and to the World Trade Center, is an incredible, beautiful thing.
"For me it was many close friends, 9/11 changed people's lives. For me, the days after, the months after – even the year after – were very heavy. It never seemed to go away. But for my own survival, I had to move on. I have a family, and duties. I couldn't function if I stayed in that horrible moment."
For friends who did lose family members, Mullen said moving on was more difficult.
The Pope's visit, he said, has been "unbelievable."
"Every move he has made has been a great. Down to the World Trade Center, this visit of his is an incredible blessing, an unbelievable experience. In New York, there is always a contrary point of view. I have never in my life experienced an event where no one can find anything bad to say.”
“His message of healing, of peace, of hope, of love is something we can all agree on,” Mullen added.
New York Cardinal Edward Egan, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York Gov. David Paterson and New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine joined the Holy Father at Ground Zero. Hundreds of people also stood just outside the site, behind police barricades, hoping for a glimpse of the Pope.